It’s the final countdown!

And much less exciting than that 80’s hit, we are not leaving for Venus…  My students are in their final week of 4th year electrical apprenticeship.

And it is a tough week for them and for me.  I am under a constant barrage of questions, and they are working like dogs to get all the practice sheets I throw at them done.  But the final exam at the end, the “Inter-Provincial Red Seal Exam” is tough on them, and they need to be focused.

This week I have dual roles as both a cheerleader and instructor.  I answer their questions, and assign work, and at the same time encourage them to focus and work hard and study.  And at the end of it  ll, I will get sick.  It happens every class, because I tend to run myself ragged working alongside them.

But, once they leave that exam, exhausted and worried but knowing they were well prepared for it, you can see and hear the appreciation for the final drive.  As much as they dislike the focused, dedicated practice, the familiarity they develop with the Code book and concepts has them usually feeling confident of a pass.

In a few years after that, I will be forgotten.  But I have a certain confidence that the concepts that I have drilled them with will remain for years.  And that is my goal, to develop good, safe electricians out of this program.

Accountability to accomplish

Many times when I assign shop activities, I do so with the caveat that the students are required to finish the shop assignment before they can write the final for that section and have the marks released to them.  And sometimes they try to weasel out of it by saying they didn’t have enough time, or didn’t understand the project… (Kinda hard for me to buy if you are always playing on your phone, but I’ll consider it…)

As the adult education in the apprenticeship system is based around the workforce training, I think that there has to be reflection of that in the course.  If you as a contractor accept a contract, you are bound to deliver on the terms of that contract.  If there are issues that prevent that (whether extraneous or due to procrastination), it is up to you as contractor to either make-up that time, or else to make other suitable arrangements with the the parties affected by the potential delay.

If a contract deadline is broken it can open up the contractor to all sorts of potential legal and monetary issues.  Now I don’t think we should be suing students over late assignments, but in our program we should have some sort of penalty.  The idea of a limited window to finish and submit the assignment for time-reduced marks does appeal to me, as this replicates our work world most closely.

Most assignments we hand out are not deeply philosophical in nature.  The learners are showing competence, not developing any deep ideas or philosophies.  They have realistic timelines based on the fact that the students are 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year apprentices.  The fact they are still in the trades means that they have demonstrated the ability to make those deadlines in the field, and should be able to replicate that for their course.

That being said, I still have one overdue student in my class that has to finish up his wiring before he can get it all checked and passed in order to get his last set of marks released…  So, 90% effective strategy?

Lets just put em all in a group and see what happens…

This week in the PIDP 3250 we were assigned a vidoe to watch and journal about.  The video was a TED talk by Susan Cain on the power of introverts.  And it really lit into this whole social construct amongst educational circles that all group work is good work.  Quite simply that is not the case.

Imagine I have a group of people at a pool.  They are diverse in their ages, (toddlers to elders) and capabilities (non-swimmers to Olympic contestants).  If I told them to all get into the pool and participate with one another for an hour, but that they had to stay together, where would they end up…….???  Most likely in the shallow end, as the toddlers and non-swimmers of the group would limit the group’s capabilities.

At the end of the hour, if I were to ask everyone how it went, I am sure that the reactions would vary.

  • The toddlers would probably have had a great time, happily playing (and probably peeing) in the pool, as they tend to be very focused on their own lives and oblivious to the needs of those around them.
  • The elders who may have been very competent at one time but are now limited by the effects of aging might be feeling disappointed/embarrassed in their own fading capabilities.
  • The adult non-swimmers would probably be inwardly relieved that they stayed in the shallow water where they are comfortable.  But their reactions might diverge past that.
  • Some Adult Non-swimmers, out of pride, might not have told anyone that they are unable to actually go to the deep end.  And in some cases, to cover their own inadequacies, they might be critical of others in the group, and how it is “So lame” and they shouldn’t be forced into it.
  • Other Adult Non-swimmers might have explained their limited abilities, but might be frustrated that the group could not take them out further and teach them more.
  • Our extremely competent Olympic swimmers would probably be frustrated by how the group held them back.

Tell me that this doesn’t sound similar to large group work.  So we have a whole mess of feelings from this exercise. and things will get messier still.  Wait until we give them out their marks, and they all get the same score….

  • The toddlers, unaware of their own inadequacies, will be quite happy and feel quite deserving of their scores.  They participated, splashed around, and all around had a great time.
  • The elders might be happy they have the mark, but knowing they didn’t really contribute much, might not feel fully deserving or that the exercise was fair.
  • The Adult non-swimmers will take the marks, because a mark is a mark, but at the end of the day they know that they haven’t really benefited from the exercise.
  • The competent swimmers will also take their mark, but most likely will resent the rest of the group as they have worked hard to get their skills up, yet that is being treated with as much value as a toddler who can barely stay on their feet.

If I were to give out marks in this setting, to tell the entire group to stay as one unit seems fairly fruitless.  But if I ask my adult students to sort themselves into groups, far more value can be created for each participant over the hour long exercise by creating applicable task levels. And for those who want to be off on their own, I give the option of doing so.

  • For the Adult non-swimmers who want to learn, I would put them with the competent swimmers who can take them out into the deep water where they can be challenged.  The competent swimmers can both show how it is done, as well as help the adult non-swimmers when they falter.
  • The elders who have the knowledge but have lost the capabilities can be paired with the toddlers.  Because the toddlers lack self awareness of their own capabilities, the elders can work at development of basic techniques for them in the safety of the shallow water.
  • The Adult non-swimmers who do not want to learn, will have to choose which group they are in.  Most will choose to swim with the competent to save face, but if that fear is too great, they can stay with the elders and toddlers.
  • For those who are capable of being off on their own (and be safe doing so), I would allow to tackle the project solo how they see fit.

At the end of the day, I feel that allowing the students so self-select groups or individual efforts by skill level will give more overall value to the process.


When all your effort is not neough…

In every class there always seems to be at least one student that seems to really deserve to pass.  But no matter how hard they try, and despite the fact they show up early, stay late, and study hard, They just can’t seem to get above the requisite grade for a pass.

It is hard to see a learner fail a level.  Especially adult learners who have families, careers, and professional pride on the line.  But a greater disservice is done to the learners and industry in general if they are let through.  Nobody wants their house wired by a learner that is only 65% competent…  You would never sleep soundly at night.

Because apprenticeship courses are mandatory to become a journeyperson, a student who fails will have to repeat that level.  Sometimes all they need is more time to process the information and become comfortable with it.  Generally they do better the second time around

I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to clearly lay out the grade scheme early on so all students know what is expected, and that there are no exceptions.  If students know that the marks are not flexible,  there will be less social pressure, both internally generated or externally applied.

Tough talks

One of the things that I dislike about class is when you have to take time out to deal with an particularly unruly student.   I am generally good natured and patient, but I do have limits.  Today was one of those days.

I have had this particular student through several classes.  The student is smart, and is capable at most assigned tasks.  But they do not have great social awareness.  Every class discussion, this particular student makes snide remarks and useless unrelated comments to try and derail the discussion.  Usually I just ignore these and keep on going.  Every assignment I give is loudly questioned as to the validity and why it is needed, and then this student loudly sighs like it is the end of the world before stating they still disagree but will do it.  Like it is such a big favour I am asking.

I kicked this student out of class yesterday.  Just 15 minutes early.  But I had enough of the comments and attempts to derail my class.  So I asked the student to wait outside until after class to talk with me.  And the other students applauded, which means I must have waited too long to do this.  But that student went instead of waiting for me home.  So today we had a talk.

It went well. The student agrees they has been disruptive, and seeing the others students reaction actually made them quite cognizant of that.  Since the student sits at the front, they never saw the eye rolls and annoyance on the fellow students whenever they launched into a derail.  So we will see how that all goes…

Keep your germs to yourself!

It has been a rough week for me.  The student right in front of my desk in class had been sick, and now he has passed it of to me.  So I have been hacking and coughing and sweating out waiting for this summer flu to pass.

The worst part is that I’m the only qualified teacher for the institution who can be in this class right now.  And since the class is in the final weeks of 4th year, the pressure is on to get past the IP.  So I feel obligated to come in and teach, despite my headaches and desire not to be.  I have invested several classes into theses students by now and want to see them pass as well.

But, I have decided on a new classroom policy.  If a student right in front of my desk gets sick, I am going to banish them to the back of the room and get one of the healthier ones to come sit up front.  Since they are all relying on me to be there and in tip-top form everyday, I figure this is the best way to try to ensure that.  I’m expecting some feedback (particularly from the slackers in the back who don’t want to have the sick students by them, or to move up to the front to take their place) But we will see how it goes.

Levels of (electrical) buy-in

The BC electrical apprenticeship system is a 7200 hour system.  6000 hours are supposed to be jobsite experience and learning, and the remaining 1200 hours are spent in school.  The formal schooling is broken up into four 10-week sets of 300 hours each, which take place a year apart for the first 4 years.

The difference in mindset from year to year is amazing.

  1. First Year apprentices are tentative.  They have a vague grasp of the concepts, but are unsure of their answers.  They like to observe, and seldom seem to question the information fed to them.  Because they have not yet spent a lot of time in the trade or school, they are not very invested in their training, as they are still unsure whether they want to continue in the trade.
  2. Second Year apprentices are overwhelmed and need a lot of encouragement to keep going.  The amount of material covered in the schooling has gone up exponentially, and they are expected to spend a lot more time researching figuring stuff out on their own. The concepts are not too abstract, yet, but they are getting harder and non-linear current is introduced.  The hidden goal of second year is to teach students to study and become self-sufficient in finding and curating answers on their own.
  3. Third Year apprentices are dogged.  They get stretched to their limits, but determined to complete the program.  The study skills learned in 2nd year are now needed, as the same breadth of material is covered, but now a lot more indepth.  The cognitive demand is much higher, and coupled with the amount of self study and review needed, many apprentices find this to be the hardest year of all.
  4. Fourth Year apprentices are invested and inquisitive.  4th year is mostly a lot of review and expansion of other topics.  But because there is a massive summative evaluation (the Inter-Provincial Red-Seal Electricians Exam) at the end of the course, the students are by far the most engaged.  They ask a ton of questions, and spend a lot of time looking for clarification on the areas they don’t understand.  This is by far the most exhausting class to teach, as the student questions are quite high level.

Currently I am teaching a 4th year group.  So my time is stretched to the max, and I spend several hours every evening answering emails with questions they have from the day, or the study materials.  Despite the exhausting pace, it is still a ton of fun to see their interest and understanding.